Von der Leyen panics: EU triggers emergency Covid restrictions as new variant runs rampant

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The European Commission President made the surprise announcement of the “precautionary” measures in a Brussels address this afternoon. It comes as the “nu” Covid strain sparks panic across capitals throughout Europe. 

Ms von der Leyen said: “We do know that mutations could lead to the emergence and spread of even more concerning variants of the virus, that could spread worldwide in months.

“It is now important that all of us in Europe act very swiftly, decisively and united.”

She added: “All air travel to these countries should be suspended until we have a clearer understanding about the danger posed by this new variant.

“Travellers from these regions should respect strict quarantine rules.”

The Commission President called on EU citizens to get vaccinated, and said that the Covid-19 vaccine would be adapted immediately for new variants as they emerge. 

The EU’s move follows the UK’s announcement earlier today that air travel to and from South Africa had been suspended.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News: “As scientists have described, [this is] the most significant variant they’ve encountered to date.” 

Ms von der Leyen spoke after EU member state Belgium confirmed a first case of the variant in the country.

Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said: “We have one case of this variant that is confirmed. It’s someone who came from abroad.”

Marc Van Ranst, who works with the Rega Institute in Belgium, said that a sample was confirmed as the variant in someone who had returned from Egypt on November 11.

The patient first showed symptoms on November 22.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said it was “highly likely” that the variant had now spread to other countries.

He added that the variant was first sequenced by Hong Kong from someone travelling from South Africa.

Hong Kong’s government also banned non-residents from arriving from eight southern African states today, effective from Saturday. 

It said: “Along with South Africa, which is already a specified high-risk place, non-Hong Kong residents who have stayed in these places within 21 days will not be allowed to enter the city.”

The head of the Covid -19 Genomics UK Consortium said today that it was likely that the variant would end up spreading to the UK, but efforts to buy time and reduce transmission would help.

Sharon Peacock said: “I think buying time is important and it’s worthwhile, because we can find out what we need to know about that particular variant.

“This is part of important planning and preparation for something that I would guess is likely to be transmitted into the UK at some point, but it buys that time.”

Her words stand in stark contrast to the World Health Organisation, which cautioned against travel curbs for now.

Professor Ben Cowling, chair of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, also said: “Most likely this virus is already in other places.

“And so if we shut the door now, it’s going to be probably too late.”

Italy and France have already imposed their own travel restrictions on those coming from southern Africa.

Italy has banned entry to anyone who has visited southern African states in the past 14 days. Meanwhile, France suspended flights from the region.

European nations are already grappling with a fourth wave of infections as the continent goes into winter.

The Dutch government today announced fresh restrictions on bars and restaurants in a bid to curb a rise in infections.

More to follow…



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